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How are coffee beans grown?
How are coffee beans grown?

The coffee plant itself can reach up to 10 metres in height, but they’re pruned to ensure that the top branches can be reached. As it gets older, it bears fewer branches but more leaves and fruits.

The plants are grown in rows, several feet apart. First, coffee plantation farmers usually plant seeds in large beds in nurseries with shade cover. Once these sprout, the seedlings are removed and put into individual pots, which are frequently watered in the shade until they’re ready to be planted in the ground. This is usually done during the rainy season, so the roots of the seedlings have moist soil to establish themselves in.

Depending on the variety of coffee, it takes around 3 to 4 years for the newly planted coffee trees to bear fruit and be ready for harvest, though this year we saw 2 year old trees in Colombia that were already bearing masses of fruit. It must have been something in the soil!

There’s usually one major harvest a year in most coffee-growing regions across the world.

The different varieties of coffee require different conditions in which to grow and thrive. Arabica coffee (official name: coffea arabica) grows best in temperatures between 15 and 24 °C, and needs places with 1500-3000mm of annual rainfall. It thrives at high altitudes, preferably 1200 – 2300 metres above sea level.

Robusta coffee (coffea canephora) can endure hotter, drier conditions, preferring environments with between 24–30 °C temperatures, in altitudes up to 800 metres above sea level.

Those conditions mean they’re mostly grown around the Equator. Not quite on it – that’s too hot – but in the areas above and below it, the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This includes parts of Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.

When the coffee fruit is ripe, it’s normally picked by hand, either one cherry at a time, or all at once from a single branch. There are some places where landscapes can be relatively flat (ie. Brazil) in which machines can be used to do the picking.

After this, there’s a few different ways of preparing them for roasting. The ‘fully washed’ process involves washing the beans to remove debris, and then removing the pulp of the cherry. Then, the beans are dried (sometimes in sunshine, otherwise artificially) and processed – sorting via hand or machine to store them by size, and filter out imperfect beans.

The second option is all-natural – in this, the beans are kept intact, rather than removing the cherry pulp. These are then cleaned, dried in the sun, then stored and hulled when ready for sorting.

The third method is called honey processing, and is where the skin and some of the fruity layer is removed, and then the beans, surrounded by some of the fruity layer, are left to dry in the sun. The name comes from the stickiness they develop during this step. There are different types of honey processing – for example, red honey, yellow honey, white honey, black honey, which refer to the amount of fruity layer left on the beans.

After they’re processed, coffee beans don’t look like the ones you see in pictures. They’re a pale green in colour, a bit like pistachio nuts, and not suitable for consumption. It’s only when they’re roasted that they become ready for use as a drink ingredient, and that’s when they turn brown, and become a little less hard to the touch. They also release oils on their surface, but this is mostly a result of over-roasting. The oil contains much of the flavour, so if it leaves the bean, it won’t taste as good.

 

After this, there’s a few different ways of preparing them for roasting. The ‘fully washed’ process involves washing the beans to remove debris, and then removing the pulp of the cherry. Then, the beans are dried (sometimes in sunshine, otherwise artificially) and processed – sorting via hand or machine to store them by size, and filter out imperfect beans.

The second option is all-natural – in this, the beans are kept intact, rather than removing the cherry pulp. These are then cleaned, dried in the sun, then stored and hulled when ready for sorting.

The third method is called honey processing, and is where the skin and some of the fruity layer is removed, and then the beans, surrounded by some of the fruity layer, are left to dry in the sun. The name comes from the stickiness they develop during this step. There are different types of honey processing exist – for example, red honey, yellow honey, white honey, black honey etc.

After they’re picked, coffee beans don’t look like the ones you see in pictures. They’re a pale green in colour, a bit like pistachio nuts, and not suitable for consumption. It’s only when they’re roasted that they become ready for use as a drink ingredient, and that’s when they turn brown, and become a little less hard to the touch. 

 

They also release oils on their surface, but this is mostly a result of over-roasting. The oil contains much of the flavour, so if it leaves the bean, it won’t taste as good.

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